With Virginia Tech knocked out of the national title picture, the Bowl Championship Series is on the verge of doing something few expected before the season, much less a week ago. The controversial system is on the verge of working -- something no playoff proponent wants to hear.
Not only do Southern California and Texas, the two best teams according to all three human polls, appear on a collision course to meet in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4. But there is a fairly good possibility that they will be the nation's only two undefeated teams by New Year's Day.
The number of unbeatens dwindled to three Saturday after Miami humbled Virginia Tech, 27-7, and Arizona pounded UCLA, 52-14. And given Alabama's offensive struggles, it is difficult to envision the Crimson Tide (9-0) defeating all three remaining opponents, all of which are nationally ranked -- Louisiana State, Auburn and likely Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
"It's the same old thing every year, a bunch of undefeated teams," said Wes Colley, whose computer rankings are used in the BCS formula. "You say, 'What are we going to do?' A lot of times this controversy is premature and just kind of assumed that it is going to happen, and it doesn't."
For playoff advocates, having just two undefeated teams at the end of the regular season would be the worst-case scenario because the lack of controversy would add credibility, at least for a season, to a process that has been defined by annual mishaps. Last season it was an undefeated SEC team, Auburn, left out of the national title game. Two years ago it was USC, ranked first in both human polls, that was excluded from the national title game because it ranked third in the BCS ratings.
Barring unforeseen events, no such BCS chaos should occur this year. USC (9-0) concludes its season against three formidable schools -- California, Fresno State and UCLA -- but the Trojans show no signs of a letdown. Texas (9-0) finishes the regular season against seemingly benign opponents, Kansas and Texas A&M, before facing the champion of the inferior Big 12 North Division in the conference title game. If Saturday's 62-0 victory at Baylor was any indication, the Longhorns are intent on eliminating any doubt they belong in Pasadena.
"We hope we made a statement to the bowl voters," Texas quarterback Vince Young said.
If the BCS avoids controversy, one reason will be because a handful of critical plays unfolded in ways that diminished congestion at the top of the standings. In fact, if three plays went differently, there would currently be six undefeated teams and perhaps plenty of disgruntled fans in towns such as State College, Pa., Baton Rouge, La., and Coral Gables, Fla.
On Oct. 15, Penn State (9-1) lost when Michigan scored from 10 yards out on the game's final play. On Sept. 26, LSU (7-1) lost in overtime against Tennessee after frittering away a three-touchdown halftime lead. And on Sept. 5, Miami (7-1) stalled on a potential game-winning scoring drive late in the fourth quarter against Florida State and then botched the snap on a field goal attempt to ensure defeat.
Even if Alabama finishes the season unbeaten, it won't catch Texas for second in either the human polls or computer rankings. When the BCS standings are released today, USC and Texas will be in familiar position -- at the top -- where they are expected to remain. For better or worse, there will be little to dispute.
Miami Wins Some, Loses Some
Some Miami players and at least one of its coaches were irritated because they felt much of the nation believed Virginia Tech would beat the Hurricanes on Saturday night.
"We could have gone out there and stunk the joint up and still would have won 10-0," Miami offensive line coach Art Kehoe said following the Hurricanes' victory. "That's how overwhelming our defense was. Do you think Marcus Vick is going to be sore tomorrow? Why did people think we were going to come up here and get our [rears] kicked? Don't tell us we're going to get our butts whipped. It ain't happening."
With their words and their play, the Hurricanes displayed an attitude and swagger that was reminiscent of their vaunted teams from the 1980s and '90s.
"Everybody was like, 'Virginia Tech's toughest test this season is going to come at Virginia,' " Miami tackle Eric Winston said after the game. "That's ridiculous. We're not out of this thing. You better strap it up when we're coming to town, whether it's on the field or in the parking lot."
But not all the news from last night's game was good news for Miami. Coach Larry Coker said Sunday that running back Tyrone Moss is expected to miss the remainder of the season with what is believed to be torn ligaments in his left knee. Moss, who suffered the injury in the first quarter against Virginia Tech, will undergo an MRI exam today to confirm the severity of the injury.
Staff writer Mark Schlabach contributed to this report from Blacksburg, Va.